You're no newbie to the weight room. You've been training for years, making slow and steady gains to your chest size, thickness, and symmetry. You might not be classified as an "advanced" bodybuilder but you sure are leaving the rest of those intermediate lifters in the dust. It's time to fine tune things, examining your development by checking out each muscle group and determining what adjustments you can make to training each specific area, in order to bump up size when needed, and continue overall muscle growth in that region. Today, we'll be tackling the chest!
Most basic workouts for your chest, or pectoral muscles, will talk about using heavy compound movements such as the barbell bench press and incline dumbbell presses to help you create that initial foundation of muscle, the base of beef that every lifter needs to establish early on. And that is all fine and good - but you are past that. It's time to look at more advanced technique used by state and national level bodybuilders, to develop the pectoral muscles to a much higher degree. Sure, you want to continue building muscle mass, but we are also working on refinements while conquering the inevitable plateaus which always arise as we reach the higher echelons of development. Let's dive in and check out a few techniques you can be using to bump up your chest development on the advanced level!
Start with strength
If you're looking to build chest muscle after months and months of what has essentially been "refining" the muscle you have, then it is likely time to begin frontloading your workouts, with a major emphasis upon strength training. You've been training with 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions for years, and it's gotten you to this point. Now you have to shock your body if you want to add another inch of thickness to your chest. Training with heavier weights will do that. Keep your repetition ranges in the 5-8 area. If you can complete that ninth repetition, then you're probably using too little weight. Keep adding 1 to 2.5 pounds to each side of the bar each week until you're comfortably in that 5-8 rep range. Your body should respond with some new mass gains. Be sure to eat plenty of extra protein and enjoy some added recovery time when training heavier than you've been accustomed to training!
Vary the angles
Without a doubt, you've likely fallen into a comfort zone at the gym when it comes to your chest training. You have the familiar corners of the gym where you like to bench press. You know which area lets you watch SportsCenter while you complete your chest dips. You know which cable crossover machine usually has the least waiting time to use. You're in a familiar comfort zones, with the same equipment and angles, week after week. As a result, your body has likely adjusted to these constraints, and done all the growing it's needed to do, in order to meet this workload. It's time to purposely challenge your body. Train in a new gym if possible. Or, try training in your gym using all new machines and angles. Changing that incline bench from your usual 30 degrees down to 15 degrees will have a profound impact on some different chest muscle fibers which are usually ignored in your training. Mix it up!
Return to lifts & lockouts
If you've seen the bench press training of top muscle stars like Jay Cutler and Phil Heath, you have no doubt noticed they don't usually lock out when completing their bench press. Their sets are precise, quick, and clean, and they usually complete their 10 to 12 semi-partial bench press repetitions without locking out. This is all well and good for them, as they have their own foundation of muscle and training experience - but yours is very different. By ensuring you are locking out at the top of every repetition, you know you are absolutely activating every possible muscle fiber during each repetition. You're hitting strength just as much as muscle development when training to full lockout. You'll also give your shoulders and triceps a more intense workout than they're used to seeing.
Pinch your shoulder blades
When you started training chest, you were likely warned by the muscle elders not to pinch your shoulder blades much while bench pressing. This is solid advice for the beginner lifter. However, using some shoulder blade pinch as you become a more advance trainer can actually be a very useful tool. Pinching the shoulder blades together WHILE YOU LOWER the weight - specifically during this portion - will allow your pectorals to expand and stretch to a further degree than you're used to seeing. This will fire up more of those precious muscle fibers that you work so hard to train during your workouts. Keep that negative portion (the lowering of the weight) slow, clean and precise. If this motion doesn't come naturally to you, it can be useful to practice pinching the shoulder blades with a lighter weight on the bar, until you get the hang of it.
Elbows straight during Flyes
One poor habit that very good bodybuilders often develop is allowing their elbows to open and close when they're completing dumbbell and cable flye movements for their outer chest development. Doing so allows them to use more weight and perhaps enjoy a bit more flexibility. However, it also pulls the emphasis away from the pectoral muscles, and moves it to the biceps, shoulders and back. This movement is specifically designed to be a SINGLE-JOINT movement, and bending the elbow as you complete the repetitions lets it become a multiple joint movement. Instead, you should choose a slightly-bent elbow lock which is both comfortable and useful. Then, get to work on those repetitions!